Set Limits Clearly: How to Protect Your Time to Safeguard Your Needs with ADHD

Many of us struggle with too much to do and too little time.  While taking on too much is not unique to ADHD, the fear of letting people down which makes it difficult to set limits is common when living with ADHD.  

ADHD and "Not Good Enough" To Set Limits  

A lifetime of consistent, critical feedback, even if well-meaning, can become internalized as not measuring up as good enough. To compensate, there can be a tendency to do things for others to build yourself up. You may find yourself chiseling away at any time and energy left for yourself and compromising what’s important to you. 

When you live with ADHD, the chronic state of being hard on yourself, becoming unglued under pressure, fear of not doing your “best” for others’ sake, feeling lonely or isolated from others, loss of approval, and ignoring your personal rights makes saying no and speaking up extremely difficult.  

The costs are huge: loss of time, energy, missed personal opportunities, loss of individual identity, and more. 


Here are three ways to comfortably and clearly set limits when you live with ADHD, so you can protect yourself, your time, your rights, and your well-being. 


Understand Your Boundaries 

A boundary or limit is a line you draw that determines the behaviors of others with you that is acceptable and not acceptable to you. This boundary can be not allowing someone to criticize you, take you for granted, yell at you, contact you only for favors, interrupt you when you are working, etc. 

When you live with ADHD, it can be difficult to feel that you are justified in setting a limit. You may want to appear generous, loyal, and well-liked.  You may perceive that saying yes or remaining silent is the only way to accomplish approval.  

Once your limits are protected and you’re accomplishing what matters to you, your role in life shifts to your own goals, rather than others’ goals, and you feel better about yourself. You will find that approval shifts from the external to your own inner voice. 
Quick Tips: 
Visualize an imaginary line drawn around you, perhaps a line in the sand, or a fence surrounding you, which is your boundary line. Draw an opening in the sand or gate in the fence, only when you give permission. 
• People may cross your limits because they are unaware of them. It is up to you to make sure no one crosses your line or opens your gate. 

Learn How to Set a Limit  

When you live with ADHD, executive functioning challenges can make it difficult to get started and follow through with setting limits. It’s important to be clear about your limit, and how to communicate that limit.  


It's helpful to use this Roadmap for setting limits especially when you may struggle with what to do when and in what order:

Inform: “I wish I could, but I can’t….” or “I can’t do that now.”
Request: “I’m not able to do that, and I’m asking you to stop this conversation about it.” 
Consequence:  “If you keep asking me over and over, I’m going to have to cut this conversation short.” 
Follow-Through: “This conversation is over now. I really can’t talk about it anymore.” (leave the room, hang up the phone, etc.)
 (Source: Marion Franklin, MCC, The Heart of Laser-Focused Coaching: Boundaries.)
• Deliver the consequence with grace and compassion but make sure you follow through so your words will have weight and are meaningful. 

Quick Tips:
It's ok if you don't know what to do. You're permitted to say you don't know about a request. 
You’re allowed to take your time to decide if you want to follow up on a request. You can say “I have to think about it.”  If you really don’t want to do it, say so! 
It’s Ok to make mistakes or change your mind. You are allowed a do-over.
No one has the same boundaries. Your limits are unique to you and are determined by your values, what you tolerate, and what matters to you.  


Please Yourself

The chronic state of being hard on yourself and the fear of not doing your “best” for others’ sake when you live with ADHD can result in submitting to others under pressure. This loss of approval spirals into feelings of loneliness while at the same time ignoring your personal rights.


It’s important to remember that you are not responsible for other people’s feelings and your personal worth is not dependent on other people’s actions or decisions. 

Taking care of yourself is not selfish; it is self-care. Being loyal to yourself results in greater overall well-being. 

Rather than being dependent on others for approval, it can be helpful to convert others’ positive affirmation to becoming self-caring, self-accepting, and self-affirming about your own needs, limits, and priorities. In turn, as you align with what’s most important to you, your positive self-image will bring you a more meaningful connection with others.

Quick Tips:
• It’s natural to feel uncomfortable and perhaps guilty about setting boundaries. As you begin to set limits, it can be scary especially when you’re used to worrying about disappointing others.
• If you’re concerned about feeling guilty, ask yourself, what’s better: guilt, or anger, loss of time, energy, missed opportunities, and resentment. As you practice setting limits and turn the people-pleasing towards pleasing yourself, you’ll notice the guilt will subside. 
• Start with setting small limits and work your way into larger limits. 
• Once you start setting limits, you may feel more respected and confident for knowing what’s important to you, taking care of yourself, and managing your time. 
To summarize, to protect yourself, your time, your rights, and your well-being, three ways to comfortably and clearly set limits are:

• Understand Your Boundaries

• Learn How to Set a Limit

• Please Yourself

Experiment with these steps and remember to follow through with a consequence if needed and let me know how it goes!




 PS. Need more assistance with clearly setting limits so you can take care of yourself, your rights, and your well-being?

Contact me for an ADHD Strategy Assessment and we can talk about some additional steps you can put into place right away!


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